Aeroengineer- I think the words "reduction to practise" separate ideas from inventions. In the old days inventors had to take, the device, a model or some clear evidence that the idea worked before a patent was granted. The problem was this cluttered up the patent office.
I do not think getting a patent for "ideas" is a simple matter of just applying. I know this from the personal experience of giving a number of depositions, in the area of memory, to patent examiners who are investigating the claims of "idea" patent applications, submitted by third parties. Behind the scences the examiners do some quite detailed work.
Of course you can always apply for an "improvement" patent and that is often the reason why so many similar patents appear.
Many patents are nothing more than ideas. Most of them never get implimented in the fashion that we would hope, but are used as ways to prevent their competition from using the idea. I have heard many stories of companies doing patents in the area that they know their competitor is trying to go only in the interest of stopping them from being able to come to market.
I may be wrong, but as I understand the new rules if an invention is disclosed in public it cannot be patented as it has already been disclosed. The trick, though to patents is that there are many ways around it. This is why you see many devices that have the same features that are patented. There are always loopholes.
Bert22306, I think that the internet will be an enabler for the 3D printer market. Imagine instead of having to master 3D modeling using typical MCAD software just downloading 3D models from the 3D printer.com store. I could see that being one avenue that would grow sales of the 3D printers. Another venue would be for hobby market, imagine being able to create 3D sculptures or models for HO train track layouts, etc... Then again, give it a few more years (maybe less) Kinect may have an application that allows for the user to scan a part and then send it to the 3D printer. This could be a neat way to allow the more general public to play with 3D.. I am sure that there are many other ways to open up the 3D printer market..
I agree that it will be seldom used by the casual pc owner. I think a better solution is the same as printing pictures. I tried using a home ink jet printer, but the results weren't that good and it wasn't cheap for ink and print heads. It is a much better solution to print my pictures at Walmart or CVS. I would think that 3D printing may be the same. Of course, if it is an item for porn, I might need my own printer...
Excellent examples Larry & Bert. I too can think of times I've wished I could obtain a button to replace one that fell off a shirt, or some particular plastic part that broke and rendered an otherwise good device useless. But as a consumer, I doubt that I have enough such instances in my life to justify the cost of having my own 3-D printer. On the other hand, online businesses that offer such a service and can make a viable business selling individual plastic parts to consumers, in small quantities (often just one piece), would be useful to many of us. There are many such businesses already, and the costs seem viable -- for example, you can have someone print a plastic iPhone 5 case for you for under $10.
Bert mentioned the temporary nature of today's restriction to just plastics, and indeed that is a materials limitation only at the low cost end of the market. There are 3D printers that work with metals, glass & ceramics as well. You can have that iPhone 5 case, for example, "printed" in gold plated stainless steel if you like -- and only for about $100. But again, these are examples of how 3D printing opens up new opportunities for businesses dedicated to custom manufacturing of small quantities for consumers, but I still don't see a mass consumer market for actually owning one of these printers -- especially if we consider going beyond plastics. Bert wants to "download pots & pans," but for him to have the capability to manufacture them at home with his own 3D printer (like the one from ProMetal), they would be very expensive pots & pans!